April is always the idyllic reminder of the beauty in a dance. The two steps forward and the one step back. We throw open windows to welcome a soft breeze sliding down off mountain tops and release layers from our shoulders to let the sun drape itself over our winter skin. And in the next moment, we are holding onto anything not secure, not tethered to keep it from blowing away in the unrelenting wind. Two steps forward and one step back. We saunter into the wild to witness the first blooms brave the barren ground of a sleeping Earth, and we turn our faces up, eyes closed, to take in deep inhales of air broken free from winter’s hold. And in the next moment, we are running for cover as the chilled rain pelts against our exposed skin. We watch the windowpane become a kaleidoscope of watercolor and are reminded that without this, we cannot have the other. Two steps forward and one step back.

This April, leading up to my 44th birthday, has been its own dance, reminding me that without the back, I cannot have the forward. Reminding me that there is beauty in the waltz, in the rhythm, in the two steps forward and the one step back. Our lives, like dances, are created by rhythm, by patterns. We become so hyperfocused on the forward steps, on progress, on success, on goals, on moving on, and moving up that we forget the importance of the one step back. Of the rhythm, of the dance. We forget that the dance has already been orchestrated by someone or something so much larger than us that we are actually disrupting the flow. We get in our own way, trip over our own two feet. It is there in the one step back where we take a look back, take a look in. Notice our own patterns, our own narratives that keep us out of sync. This April, as I shimmied and shuffled my way forward, I found myself spinning in a dizzying circle, lost without rhythm and without direction. And I found myself in the one step back. On this rainy late April afternoon watching the rain puddle in shallow pools across the sandstone and a stumpy bird shake his feathers clear of the drizzle, I know that tomorrow the desert will be alive in color, yellow brush and red cacti flowers. Sitting still after so many days of dizzying circles, I am finding confidence in my steps, forward and back. Giving myself permission to dance, to waltz my way around the sun.

I am loving this dance, the steps of my 44 years. The stepping forward by looking back. The lessons that can only be learned in the rhythm.    

  • Silence: There is such peace that comes with quiet, the absence of sound. Our souls require, desire silence. Need us to quiet the world, so we can hear ourselves.


  • Soft: I am over the years of persistence, of being tough. They were steps in my dance, no doubt, but I am no longer in rooms that require me to shout, to prove myself, to push out my chest. I embrace the softness of love, of acceptance, of walking away from battles not meant for me. If it cannot be done in love, it is not meant for me.


  • Calm: I have said, more than once over the years, in some form or another, “I thrive in chaos.” That was a narrative I created and then crafted a flag to wave showing off how well I handled the messiness of my life. My nervous system and I conspired to keep me in the messiness too, but we are creating opportunities in everyday moments to embrace and to celebrate the calm. Out of the moshpit and into a calming Rumba.


  • Release: I have been loyal to a fault. I have held on because I thought it was noble and devoted and honorable. I have allowed people and patterns to hurt me over and over, for years and years because I was strong and could tolerate their bad behaviors. I realize now my strength lies in letting go, in releasing.


  • Intuition: How many times have I felt the answers in the pit of my stomach, in the rapid beat in my chest, in the steel weight on my chest, in the chill running up my spine? Countless. And how many times have I known the answers in the lightness and in the clarity? I am learning to listen to all of the ways the Universe speaks to me, through me.


  • Slow: So much is lost in the hurry, to the rush of life. And so much can be noticed in the slow – the rhythm that allows us to take stock of what is and of what is not. Haste creates blinders to reality; and with a slower pace, we step away from the blur and see, clearly.


  • Simple: Joy exists in simplicities; and when we recognize the simplicities around us, the way creamer floats across the top of our morning coffee and the way the same two doves sit on the powerline serenading each other with soft coos and the way the dancing flames from the first fire in October warm a chilled room, we realize we are living a joy-filled life.


  • Rest: For the greater part of four decades, I attached my worth to my productivity. And that attachment led me to believe that rest was for the weak, for the unworthy. I am learning that I am more than what I do and how efficiently I get it done. I am learning to rest, to let the world spin and let myself find peace in the inertia.


  • Breathe: I have become acutely aware in the last year just how often I hold my breath throughout my days. In certain moments, I find myself releasing a deep exhale and then analyzing why I was holding my breath in the first place. Anxiety. Stress. Worry. The slow suffocation of fear, of overwhelm. Our breath is our life force, and we can honor it by giving it life, by noticing it, by using it.


  • Listen: In all of the talking, the incessant words, the proving of points, the justification of behaviors, the tenacious stance on opinions, I resolve to be the listener. To be the one who hears what is being said and who listens for what is not.


  • Nature: The great healer, the grounding force – nature. Mother Earth is so intricately intertwined into our DNA; and when we ignore her calls to join her, to walk her dirt trails and open our lungs to her air, we disconnect from the vital energy of life.


  • Energy: We are each a collection of kinetic and potential energy, and we are each responsible for the energy we bring into the moments creating our lives. Being responsible for my energy has not only allowed me the personal strength to choose positivity and acceptance but has also given me permission to protect my energy from those who show up irresponsibly.


  • Adventure: I believe in the magic of spontaneity, of the backroads, of the long way around, of the scenic route. We can find ourselves when we get a little lost, when we are on a venture to somewhere, to anywhere.


  • Truth: When we walk into that unapologetic season of life, we walk in with a brazen boldness, with an abandonment of restriction. We walk in wearing our truth as a red scarf and our confidence as a feather in our purple hat. People may not understand us, but they respect us for our daring quest to be ourselves and to speak our truth.


  • Integrity: I was a sophomore in high school when I first read the definition of integrity by C.S. Lewis. And this dance has ever proved the most difficult to learn. While it is easy to know the right thing to do, it is more difficult to choose it. The dance. Is someone watching? Should it matter? And then we realize it does not matter because we know and we choose. We walk our grocery cart back to the rack. We return the wallet dropped on the sidewalk. We tell the truth through a lumped throat. We apologize. We recycle. We hold up our end of the deal even when the deal fell apart. And when your head hits the pillow at night, it is easy to sleep. Integrity is the ultimate melatonin. And karma is the ultimate scorekeeper.


  • Purpose: I have known my purpose, my passion since I was a child. I have known that writing and teaching and healing through words was my guiding compass. I have also ignored my calling for the majority of my life. It wasn’t until I lost my job this previous month and was completely broken open that God and the Universe flooded the cracks with light and reminded me of who I am and why I am. Like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, I am whole because of my brokenness.


  • Present: I continue to dance with the present. I sometimes feel like this is a line dance – a few steps to the left, into the past, followed by a few steps to the right, into the future. Always on the move, two steps forward and one step back. And I have to remind myself to do the jump, the hop. To place both feet firmly on the ground, to ground myself. To stop. Here. Now. And let this moment be. Life is lived here, now, in this moment.


  • Stillness: I have spent much of my 44 years keeping pace with society and its expectations of what I should look like, of how I should act, of how I should raise my children, about whether I should work or stay at home, of how to climb the ladder of success,of how much money I should make, of what I should wear, of how long or short my hair should. It has been an exhausting pace. A damn long race…to nowhere. I committed to stillness about six months ago when I found myself so far off track and running in a race I didn’t want to be in. Stillness, for me, looks like mindfulness. It looks like not responding right away and like taking time to choose my yes and my no. It looks like meditation and journaling and sauntering in the woods. It looks like stepping off the track and removing myself from the race.


  • Journey: I have learned that you cannot arrive at any destination happy if you did not enjoy the journey getting there, if you did not create happiness along the way.


  • Process: It is in the small steps, in the daring leaps we never speak about, in the courage to rise again, in the process that we learn what we are made of and what we were created for.


  • Patterns: Predictable, repetitive, and beautiful if they serve us. It is imperative that we step back from the colorful fabric of our lives and analyze what is there. Which patterns were created out of fear and out of conformity? Which patterns were kept out of habit? Which patterns no longer serve us? And then it is imperative that we garner the strength to rip the fabric at its seams,to tear patterns into new pieces, to sew together a new collage, a mosaic that represents the life we want to live.


  • Practice: Growing up, I remember the hours of practice for gymnastics and softball and 4-H. As a parent, the greater part of two decades has been filled with practice for gymnastics and softball and baseball and football and basketball. But it hasn’t been until this last year when I have been running less, my kids having grown up and now driving themselves to their practices, that I have taken note of the lack of practice in my life. I am creating practices like my morning journaling practice and my yoga practice and my reset practice. I am remembering the importance of showing up, even on the days I would rather not, and putting in the time, the practice to be the best version of myself.


  • Awareness: The greatest manuscripts I have read, the best archives I have dug into are my own journals, my school papers, my photo albums. The greatest knowledge about who I am has come from me. There is no greater subject I can think of to examine, to study, to become aware of, to understand. Aside from the holy and spiritual scriptures that help us understand the world, becoming self-aware is a journey we should all dare to take.


  • Comfort: I adopted the Danish way of hygge many years ago. Creating a comfortable atmosphere surrounded by coziness is not a tradition I only reserve for the long, dark winters. I create hygge in my morning practice with a dimmed lamp, a soft blanket, a glowing candle, a pen that glides across the pages of my leather journal, a warm cup of coffee or tea. I create hygge in late summer nights beside a fire, wrapped in a blanket, with a cold glass of whiskey.


  • Peace: Once I met peace and was introduced to her grace and calmness. To her slowness and ease. Once I met her, I have vigilantly been protecting her since. Protecting my peace looks like boundaries, like saying no, like choosing my circle.


  • Healing: The saying, “Hurt people, hurt people,” has been a guiding theme for the last few years of my life. I should probably tattoo it on my hand or print it on a t-shirt. I have learned we each have the responsibility to do the work necessary to heal; we are each responsible for how we step into our lives with our trauma and pain; and we are not exempt from accountability in how we hurt others because he have not done the work to heal.


  • Inspire: In my late-twenties, I tattooed Believe on the inside of my right wrist and Dream on the inside of my left wrist. Now in my mid-forties, I am deciding where I should tattoo Inspire. I love this Latin word meaning to inflame, to blow life into. I want to be the air blowing life into the flames of others’ dreams.


  • Elevate: What is the point? We live and then we die. Once the kids are older, we can… Once I have more time, I will…These are all narratives I had set on replay for years. Get up, go to work, chase the kids around, cook dinner, clean the house, go to bed, repeat, repeat, until I die. Rock bottom looks different for each of us – a divorce, addiction, bankruptcy, a diagnosis, a shattering loss, but rock bottom also looks the same for each of us – an opportunity, a wake-up call, a moment of self-reflection. At the bottom, we can start building…UP. We can elevate; we can change our narratives; we can rise.


  • Space: In the last year, I have expanded my definition of space. There is peace that comes with physical space, with time, and with mental and emotional space. Without all three, we are unable to do the necessary and sacred work of becoming our highest and best selves.


  • Safe: I am learning more and more the importance of sharing what is on my mind and what is on my heart. I am also learning more and more that the reason any one of us stifles our voice, our emotions is because we do not feel safe. Learning who and where is safe and being the who and creating the where has become an integral part of my growth and purpose.


  • Wander: The word itself means to move about leisurely and aimlessly, to slowly get lost. If I am not able to saunter on the dirt trails or in the thick woods, if I am not able to intentionally and slowly get lost a few times each week, I become disconnected. It is in the getting lost, in the wandering where I find myself. J.R.R. Tolkien knew what he was talking about.


  • Wonder: Someone in the last year said to me, “Get curious.” I can’t even remember who nor the context for the directive. But it made me think about the word, curious, and why I had only associated it with childhood. Why I had been curious about butterfly wings and about grasshopper legs and about logs diverting water and about rocks skipping across glassy surfaces and about why it had stopped. Stopped somewhere in the facade of adulthood and in the myth of having it all together and having all the answers. There is magic in wonder, in curiosity. In looking at prisms of light through the eyes of a child. In looking at the prisms of ourselves and getting curious about why we did or did not react appropriately, about why we are upset, about why we are nervous. And now I remember who said it and the context.


  • Gratitude: Nothing has transformed my life more than practicing gratitude. Gratitude is a gift we give to ourselves each and every day by taking note of the blessings in our lives. It is on the hard days, in the tough seasons, in the dark years when gratitude brings light and softness. Meeting grief on the side of the river and introducing her to gratitude builds a bridge over the raging waters to sacred ground where we can sit with memories and with reminders of joy. We are reminded that we are never too far from this place and that the bridge is always there.


  • Mindset: I believe the most important lesson I ever taught (and learned) in my 17-year teaching career was the concept of mindset and the power of our thoughts. Our subconscious believes what we tell it. It knows no different. Having a positive perspective, even on the hard days and in the unknowns and in the new, literally trains our brain into thinking that we can do hard things and that we are capable of accomplishing more than we ever thought possible.


  • Consistency: I once heard someone say consistency is a love language. I believe it is both a love language and a self-love language. When we can depend on someone, when we can believe their words will align with their actions, we can step into a space of trust and mutual understanding. And the same is true for ourselves. When we can show up every day for ourselves, when we can follow through on our commitments, we can step into a space of belief where we ignite fires for our big dreams.


  • Growth: The most beautiful and potent thing I have learned in the last decade of life is about growth. It is a sacred dance requiring seasons of tilled soil and seasons of manure followed by seasons of torrential downpours and exhaustingly long seasons of patience. It is all growth and it is all beautiful.


  • Genuine: When you become a trustworthy, drama-free person, you will first feel lonely, abandoned even. You will witness people telling stories and talking about others, and you will notice the silence when you come near. Do not take this as a stab, as an exclusion. Instead, nod as you walk by. Smile, knowing you are not welcome in circles of insincere conversation.


  • Duality: Dancing is in the duality, the forward and the back. And life is always holding two truths. There is peace in letting two things be simultaneously true. We can love and also be upset. We can move on and still be grateful. We can be driven and still need rest.


  • Reflect: It is in reflection, in the one step back, where I have learned to forgive myself with grace and love. Time is the ultimate perspective allowing us to accept what was and to be where we are, to do better.


  • Relax: I know that somewhere in my dance, I began feeling guilty for relaxing. I think my childhood role models, my parents and grandparents, rarely relaxed. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, what I hadn’t seen. What I know now is that I can waltz right into complete burnout if I don’t stop, if I don’t relax.


  • Conscious: So many times I remember thinking, I wish I could be like that, living in an ignorance-is-bliss-world. But in reality, I am thankful I can read the room. That I am aware of who I am in a room. That I know when to leave the room. There is beauty in awareness.


  • Authenticity: I have lied about my age, my weight, my hair color, my favorite music, about whether I had seen a popular movie. But why? Because there are constraints to keep us tethered to cool, to hip, to popular, to the crowd. And when I began owning my weight and the dimples along my thighs, my age and the deepening wrinkles beside my eyes, the ashiness and silver tinsel of my hair, the lyrics of every country song from the 80s and 90s, I gave myself permission to be authentic and gave others the freedom to do the same in my presence.


  • Transparency: I lived an entire existence before this last year predicated on the theory that talking, speaking, revealing would only cause problems, cause uncomfortable spaces. I am learning that speaking is not only necessary for communication but is also a sacred requirement in transparency, in creating safe spaces where we can grow.


  • Self-Love: Not the kind of self-love made of massages and pedicures; although, I wouldn’t turn either of those versions down, but the love of self that says, “I am worthy. I am enough. I will love myself well today.”

Wherever you are in the dance, and even when you feel like you are tripping over your own feet, let yourself be. Two steps forward and one step back is still forward, and you are okay. There is a rhythm, a dance, being orchestrated by something, by someone so much larger than us, and it is beautiful, and you are okay.


Kylee Jean